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A hardline royalist activist launched a legal action on Monday against an opposition party for voicing concern during a recent parliamentary debate over the indiscriminate use of the royal defamation law. 

Anti-government protesters gather outside the Parliament during the no-confidence censure debate on July 19, 2022. 

The complaint was submitted to the national anti-graft agency by Sonthiya Sawasdee, who wants the Move Forward Party to be put under investigation for “serious ethical breach.” Sonthiya said party lawmakers behaved inappropriately when the Lower House convened on Friday for a no-confidence motion against PM Prayut Chan-o-cha by raising photos of two activists currently imprisoned under the royal defamation charge. 

Sonthiya, a former adviser to the House committee on human rights, also took offense at Move Forward Party MP Amarat Chokepamitkul for placing a funeral flower in front of the House Speaker’s seat to protest the Prime Minister’s refusal to step down, eight years after he seized power in a military coup. 

“The complaint I filed named the entire party as the offender, because the party’s leader and party executives were also present in the assembly,” Sonthiya told reporters. “Let me emphasize that I’m not really [upset] about the funeral flower, but raising portraits of Article 112 prisoners, that's a serious ethical breach.” 

His complaint was filed to the National Anti-Corruption Commission, which is empowered to launch criminal investigations into lawmakers and their parties accused of violating the Parliament’s code of conduct. If a party is found guilty, the commission can recommend the case for trial or even call for a party to be disbanded. 

The backlash came just days after the Move Forward Party accused Prayut’s administration of weaponising the charge of royal defamation in its campaign to lock up and silence political dissidents. Thai Lawyers for Human Rights said more than 200 individuals have been charged with Article 112, while hundreds more face criminal charges for taking part in anti-government rallies. 

In her address to the House, Move Forward MP Bencha Saengchantra also drew attention to the plight of activists Netiporn “Bung” Sanesangkhom and Nutthanit “Baipor” Duangmusit, who have been jailed at a women’s prison pending trial since early May. Bencha called for their immediate release in order to “return justice to the people.”

“If this Parliament continues to let the situation go on the way it is right now, in the future, who will have respect and confidence in the laws and the justice systems?” Bencha said. “At the same time, the division in our society will only deepen to the point of no return. It’ll become a new crisis within the crisis, which will end up becoming more violent, like a timebomb that’s waiting to go off. 

“No one should be imprisoned, or killed, or forced to leave the country just for expressing their political opinions, or expressing their objection to the country’s leader, or wanting to oppose an illegitimate power that came from a military coup.” 

She continued, “The Move Forward Party and I believe that if we don’t take any action, Thai society will not have any future in our way forward.” 

Bencha then called on PM Prayut to resign immediately to prevent the conflict from escalating. 

“I cannot leave the future of our people, and of the young generations in this country, in the hands of Gen. Prayut Chan-o-cha. And I cannot have confidence in Gen. Prayut to run the country for one more second,” the MP said in her plea. 

Bencha and other lawmakers from Move Forward also raised portraits of Netiporn and Nutthanit to show their solidarity with the two imprisoned activists. The court has repeatedly denied bail for the pair, despite their lawyer’s claim that their health was deteriorating from their hunger strike behind bars. 

Teerarat Samretwanich, an MP from Pheu Thai Party, also took the floor to call out the government for its poor track record on civil rights, citing cases of activists being arrested, jailed, intimidated or followed by security officers for speaking out against PM Prayut. 

“As of today, there are more than 30 members of the public, including minors, who have been put in jails for months, merely because they have different political opinions,” Teerarat said. “I demand that they be released so they can contest their charges from outside prison.” 

The crackdown on public criticism of the Prayut administration continued in the days just prior to the no-confidence censure. On 17 July, a bookshop owner in Bangkok said police officers asked him to take down a sign in front of his store asking bypassers to give their opinions in a survey about PM Prayut. 

According to the shop owner, police officers told him the sign was inappropriate because the store, called A Book With No Name, is located close to the Sukhothai Palace, former royal residence of King Vajiralongkorn. 

A group of activists who attempted to hold a similar petition signing event at a public park in Nakhon Ratchasima province were also blocked by municipal workers, who claimed that political activities were not allowed at public venues unless they were approved by the Governor. 

When the campaigners held their ground, officials seized their equipment and broke up the gathering, as evidenced by a video of the incident. One activist was reportedly injured in the scuffle.

The opposition’s attempt to unseat PM Prayut was foiled on Saturday when the Prime Minister and all of his Cabinet survived the no-confidence vote by a comfortable margin – an outcome expected by many observers, since the government continues to command a majority in the Parliament. 

Outside Parliament, dozens of protesters gathered to stage their own vote of no-confidence. Organizers said 16,690 members of the public cast their vote against Prayut’s government, compared to 251 who voted in favor of the administration. While the polling method was far from scientific, the activists maintain it reflects the fact that public opinion has turned against PM Prayut’s administration. 

According to an online poll conducted by a network of universities and TV channels, nearly 98 percent of 520,000 participants said they no longer have confidence in the Prime Minister and his Cabinet. 

Saturday’s session was the final no-confidence censure for the current government before its four-year term expires next year.  General elections are due in March. 

Pheu Thai Party leader Chonlanan Srikaew said he was not surprised by the result, adding that there is still a chance to end Prayut’s grip on power when voters head to the next polls. 

“We already knew we didn’t have enough votes in the Parliament,” Chonlanan told reporters after the voting concluded on Saturday. “But we have not lost faith and are counting on the people.”

At 14.43 on 27 July, Prachatai English replaced the article with a grammatically-edited version.

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